Margaret Ethridge

Scene Stealers

I love a story where the setting is one of the characters. Whether it’s a quirky small town or a frenetic city, I’m always more intrigued by stories where the scenery is more than backdrop for the scene.

As writers, we tend to focus on world-building when we’re crafting sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal stories because those sub-genres demand painstaking attention to detail in order to make the story possible.  In less-speculative worlds, setting is sometimes used as a giant ‘You are here’ marker. An intrinsic sense of place can be easy to lose in the story-telling aspect of more contemporary or reality-based works.

I am always drawn to works where the setting is more than just a place.

In the television show The Gilmore Girls, Stars Hollow, Connecticut is a character itself. Yes, the show was populated with vivid characters, but the town itself played an integral role. The gazebo in the square was more than just window dressing; it was a touchstone for characters and viewers alike. AMC’s Mad Men is New York and Madison Avenue through and through. There advertising agencies in Chicago or L.A. at that time, but who wants to watch a show about them? The red earth of Tara calls to me just like it pulled Scarlett O’Hara home time and time again because I identify with her desire to recapture the youth and innocence she left there.

There’s nothing I love more than being whisked away by a novel. It doesn’t matter if I’m roaming the Scottish Highlands with a kilt-wearing hottie, strolling the exquisite grounds at Pemberley on Mr. Darcy’s arm, or jet setting through the 70’s and 80’s with Judith Krantz or Danielle Steel, I’m happy as a clam.

What is it about a story’s setting that creates an indelible mark in your memory? Where have your favorite stories, shows, or movies taken you?

8 thoughts on “Scene Stealers

  1. I write YA fantasy, so I get completely wrapped up in my world. Sometimes the descriptions are so vivid and too much that I have to edit and make the scenes simpler.

    I like to get a feel for settings, but when I read, I don’t want to be bogged down by them. If the teapot on the corner shelf means something, then show it. If it doesn’t, do I really need to know it’s there? While I find some settings beautifully described, sometimes I wonder what the author’s purpose was in writing them so vividly if they served no purpose other than effect. I think there should be a balance.

  2. Northern Exposure is a perfect example! I won’t shoot you, but I may pepper you with GG quotes. 😉

  3. Very interesting post! Gilmore Girls is such a perfect example of a setting that’s so much more than just a setting. I think it’s easier to bring a setting to life in a television show or a movie, but when an author can take the time to set the scene in a way that’s real and vivid and magical, so that it too becomes a character, that’s when I fall in love with a book. 🙂

  4. Funny that someone should mention Northern Exposure. I was thinking about Nora Roberts book, Northern Lights. Take away the setting and there is no story.

    I try to make my setting a character. Not sure it always works!

  5. Oooh, I’ve trekked the Amazon and frozen my tush off in the wilderness of Alaska with good reads. I love when a place artfully becomes a character. Great post Ms. E!

  6. Great replies! I’ve read some articles that claim a story’s setting should be innocuous. While I agree that it shouldn’t interfere with the story, do think it can be an intregal part of it!

  7. I have seen Gilmore Girls and agree, setting is important in a book. I love to see where they’re at through their description. I read suspense so description of the area adds to the intrigue.
    Great Post!

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